So it has been over a month at site, and I guess it’s difficult to summarize everything that the month has brought. In a way, it’s hard because there have been so many interesting, funny, and unexpected things that have happened, that it’s hard to capture them all in an update; and in a way it’s hard because it feels like nothing has really happened at all.
As we left training and went into site, it was recommended we spend the next few months integrating into our communities. This involves getting to know the people, places, and practices of the area, while assisting and observing in the day to day activities at our site, without starting on any new projects or ideas. The integration is designed to allow time for us to gain the community’s trust, and get a more accurate idea of what the community’s needs really are – before diving into new projects or programs that we think the community wants or should have.
While I agree with the logic behind the integration period, it does present its challenges. The health center I am based at does not have the patient volume or activity to support its current staff, let alone a new volunteer with a go-go-go American attitude. This however is not anything new to the Peace Corps, and I believe is one of the challenges that can be expected as you gain international development experience. Coming from a business management background, however, it is difficult to not only be concerned about my lack of productivity during the day, but also the staff around me. I try to remember that this should not be my concern – my concern is in determining the ways I can help Guyanese people live healthier lives.
As far as opportunities at the health center go, more consistent and directed counseling with diabetic patients is needed. Too many Guyanese do not take the necessary actions needed to mitigate their diabetes risk, or manage it once diagnosed. Patients are told the same information and given the same medications each time they come in, but are not actually making the changes needed to save their lives.
I am hoping to eventually get a better understanding of the reasoning behind this, so that possible solutions can be explored. There is also a large population of pregnant woman who attend clinic, so additional attention to maternal health, infant care, and family planning are all possible areas of impact.
Outside of the health center, I have identified possible opportunities through mental health awareness, Amerindian village outreaches, women’s shelters, HIV support groups & soccer clubs, schools, youth organizations, and play park renovations. What has been especially motivating is meeting Guyanese people that are equally as passionate about improving the lives of people here, who are heading local organizations where Peace Corps volunteer assistance and ideas can really take foot. Of course, nothing is going to happen overnight – if it could, I probably wouldn’t need to be here for two years. It’s funny how taking life slow can freak me out sometimes. It’s like I get uncomfortable when I am not doing something, but sometimes nothing is exactly what is required. This has been the most challenging part of my experience to date.
Aside from trying to figure out what the hell I am going to do here, a few volunteers and I have been enjoying the 2nd season of Orange is the New Black, and my friend and PCV Emily has identified some alarming similarities to our Peace Corps experience and prison.
Just to name a few:
- The bathroom situation is never ideal. In fact, it is pretty scary most of the time.
- Other people tell you what you should wear, who you can talk to, where you can go, when you have to be home, and transportation is never in your control
- It can be difficult to identify what is in your food
- People laugh at your misfortune, and present you with horrific scenarios while smiling
- PCVs exercise and sleep 15+ hours each day to pass the time
- People here tell you things like, “don’t talk to that guy, he raped his cousin.”
- Women are not allowed to wear revealing clothing
- The wages you make from random prison jobs are probably pretty comparable to what we make here
- Anything you want from “the outside” you need a connection for, and it is expensive and takes a while to get here
- There are no secrets
- The police/guards are most definitely not your friends
- It is hard to understand the way a lot of the population speaks until you have been here a while
- No one talks about the experience as being positive while it is going on; but afterwards, it was always “a learning experience.”
- Every morning we wake up and ask ourselves, “how did we get here” and “when can I go home?”
While the above can all be painfully sad but true, the fact is that we are not in prison and that each of us chose to serve through the Peace Corps for our own reasons. They say the first three months at site are the hardest, and I can understand that to be true.
Our focus is still clear, but the reality of being here isn’t what I pictured, and the vision of what I will actually be able to accomplish here is still blurry. I am truly thankful for the amazing support system I have, both here and back home – all of which play a crucial role in keeping me present, optimistic, and motivated. I am looking forward to things falling into place over the coming months, and I will be sure to keep things updated as they do. Thank you all!